The first round of Executive Elections were an embarrassment for UCDSU, from having four sabbatical positions uncontested, to having students vote to reopen nominations in those four races as a protest vote. The perennial issue of ‘engagement’ has come up again, so it’s worth examining what the relationship most students have with the union, beyond membership on paper.
In 2019 the HEA found that of UCD’s student population, a mere 5% came from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds, while 34% came from ‘affluent’ backgrounds.
The low number of counsellors employed by UCD, the issue that leads to the long waiting lists, is less of an issue for students who can access mental health supports via their parents’ private insurer, and in any case the evidence that people in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to have mental health issues grows with each study into the link. High rent on campus, and general lack of ‘affordable’ housing generally in Dublin is of little concern to those whose families can afford it, and of no concern at all to those who have the option of living near Belfield with their parents.
In this context, the Students’ Union have focussed heavily over the past few years on housing and the counselling services, with other campaigns covering issues such as period poverty and providing free kitchen equipment to students, noticeably campaigns most beneficial to those small numbers of students from poorer backgrounds.
None of this is to imply that every student from a disadvantaged background needs a students’ Union to Survive, nor to suggest that those from affluent backgrounds never face hardships that the Students’ Union can support them through. What is true is that while no student loses out from the Students’ Union achieving its goals, those currently most disadvantaged stand to gain the most, yet they are a tiny proportion in a campus as affluent as UCD’s.
As always, the University Observer is on the side of the students who feel underserved by their university. Issues like accommodation, counselling and treatment of postgraduate workers have been cornerstones of the Union’s gripe with management - and rightly so. Thousands of students arrive in UCD for the first time every year, disappointed and feeling taken advantage of when they see what it is their University has to offer.
Of course elected officials, both paid and unpaid, in the Students’ Union deserve scrutiny and criticism. The mechanisms by which UCDSU is governed, either by its own constitution or by legislation, can and should be critiqued and changed where needed. Ultimately, however, UCDSU is its membership, and when the majority of student’s can’t see the point of a union, they may want to ask if that is due to the union itself, or their relatively comfortable position.
This is our final issue of Volume XXVIII. We wish our section editors, contributors and readers the very best in their end of year assessments and a safe and enjoyable summer. We look forward to welcoming you back to campus in September.